Interval training is a popular form of physical exercise that alternates periods of intense effort with periods of less or no activity. The American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends predicts high-intensity interval training will reclaim its top spot as the world’s most popular workout in 2018.
Interval training isn’t just for top athletes anymore. If you’re short of time and want to improve your aerobic capacity and athletic performance in less than one-fifth of the time of traditional endurance workouts, then interval training is just what the doctor ordered.
In addition to the benefits of your sporting prowess, interval training offers many improvements to your body’s health. Interval training can burn more calories quicker, increase the body’s metabolic rate for longer after exercise, improve heart health and it can stop that boredom setting in to your fitness regime.
What Is Interval Training?
Calling at the gym on the way home from work you may have witnessed countless treadmills, rowing machines and exercise bikes populated by similar people on their way home gruelling through a two-hour workout at the gym. After all, the U.S. Health Department recommends we get at least 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week with 300 minutes said to offer even more extensive health benefits. If only there was a way we could reduce this time so we have more time to spend with the family or doing things we really enjoy?
Fortunately there is and it’s called interval training. You may have heard the phrase bandied about the gym; high-intensity training workout or HIIT and thought it’s just another way of circuit training or the latest CrossFit program. But interval training is so much more, and it’s nothing new either. Interval training was developed in the early 1900s as a more efficient training regime for runners.
Once the domain of professional runners and other endurance athletes, interval training can be used by anybody of any fitness level. The most common form of interval training is high-intensity interval training, that we mentioned above, which makes people think only the fittest of athletes can benefit from interval training.
But you can actually control the burden on your body quite easily by adjusting the duration and intensity of the work and recovery periods and carefully choosing the total number of intervals. Interval training is something we can all do to save time, improve our health and it’s even been shown to slow down or reverse the ageing process so we have more of that saved time to enjoy in other ways.
Interval Training Is Time Efficient
For most people the single biggest advantage of interval training is the time it saves. Research has shown that high-intensity interval training can have similar effects on your body to that of a traditional endurance training session, but in a much shorter time. One piece of research demonstrated that eight to 12 one minute intervals of high intensity activity had the same effects on the body’s metabolism and worked the muscles as much as approximately 90 minutes of cycling at a moderate pace.
A survey by the Center for Chronic Diseases found that nearly 80 percent of Americans don’t meet the recommended guidelines for exercise each week that could lead to later health problems. With most people saying they just don’t have the time to meet the recommended guidelines, a few sessions of 10 to 20 minutes of interval training could quickly help you meet your fitness goals.
A 12-week study of sprint interval training by exercise scientists at McMaster University found that as little as one minute of intensive exercise could have the same health benefits for the heart, respiratory fitness and muscles as 45 minutes of traditional continuous exercise.
The following Youtube clip shows a 25-minute cardio interval training workout which could be done at home to save even more time by not having to travel to the gym.
Interval Training and Anti-Aging
According to a paper by the European Society of Cardiology in 2012, high-intensity exercise can activate telomerase, a well known anti-aging enzyme, in our bodies. As well as increasing the telomerase, HIIT can reduce p53 expression, a protein which contributes to premature aging and the growth of tumors and cancer cells. Fewer mutations of p53 means you have a lower risk of developing cancer and life expectancy becomes even longer.
In addition, HIIT actually combats ageing at a cellular level especially in senior adults. Mitochondrial proteins which fuel our cells tend to deteriorate as we get older but a study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., noted HIIT showed the biggest improvement in mitochondrial protein levels of an older group of adults aged 65 to 80 compared to another group aged 18 to 30. This study demonstrates older adults have the ability to adapt to exercise.
Interval Training and Weight Loss
One of the top reasons for working out is to lose weight and get that trimmer and leaner figure you’ve always wanted; the bikini body for the beach. Interval training enables you to burn more calories but spend less time at the gym or working out.
High-intensity interval training has been shown to reduce more abdominal fat compared to sessions of moderate-intensity continuous exercise sessions by many studies. If you feel you’ve hit that weight loss plateau where nothing seems to be increasing your weight loss, interval training could be just what you need to switch up your routine.
Another reason why interval training is so good for burning calories is the higher rate of our metabolism after a particularly strenuous workout, known as the afterburn effect. You could be sat playing on your Playstation, soaking in the hot tub or even asleep in bed and your body will still be burning calories. Adding bursts of high-intensity activity to your workout will increase the afterburn or the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) much more than with moderate exercise workouts.
Interval Training and Cardiovascular Health
The most significant health benefits of interval training is how much it’ll increase your aerobic performance. By increasing your intensity of aerobic exercises, especially with intervals, you effectively boost your cardio respiratory functions—how well the heart and lungs can supply oxygen to your body during exercise. Interval training increases the maximum amount of oxygen that your body gets during exercise or in technical terms, it increases your VO2 max.
When you push your body with intervals, the muscles work much harder and need more oxygen during the exercise and afterwards. This explains the improvements in cardiovascular strength and the post-exercise afterburn or continued calorie burn. Furthermore, the bursts of high-intensity training improve the cardiovascular function and significantly lower the risk of chronic diseases especially of the heart or diabetes.
Blood Sugar and Interval Training
A recent summary of 50 different studies found that interval training, especially HIIT both reduces blood sugar and improves insulin resistance more than traditional endurance exercises. Interval training is a workout regime that could be especially beneficial for people at risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that HIIT is effective in improving the blood sugar levels of type 2 diabetes patients and can also improve insulin resistance in healthy older adults too.
Interval Training Improves Endurance
Interval training is popular with runners and cyclists and other endurance athletes, it’s the boost it gives to their overall endurance. Interval training reduces blood pressure and boosts the levels of that all important mitochondria we mentioned earlier that helps to fuel the both your muscles and brain. One study published by the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that cyclists who participated in an eight-week program of HIIT had doubled the length of time they could ride their bicycle for while still keeping the same pace.
No Extra Equipment Necessary
As well as the many health benefits above, interval training is one of the easiest workouts to add to your fitness plan. Just as many people argue they haven’t got the time to travel to a gym, interval training may also save them the cost. Zero equipment is required, all you need is a little open space and your own body weight. Using extra weights will actually make the HIIT less effective as it’s about raising your heart rate rather than toning specific muscle groups. The following video demonstrates a body weight high-intensity interval training routine:
Variety Is the Spice of Life
There are few things more boring than just pounding on a treadmill for 40 minutes every time you go to the gym. Firstly, as we’ve mentioned over and over again, interval training will reduce the time you need to spend exercising. But secondly, interval training doesn’t have to be limited to the same routine or activity every time.
You don’t have to limit yourself to a body weight workout, running or cycling, you could pick any cardio workout and make it an interval workout. Swimming could be an interval workout, jogging, aerobics or even using a rowing machine at the gym. The whole point is to raise your maximal heart rate, not how you do it.
Basically interval training allows you to add variety to your routine as the high intensity exercises can be whatever you want to use. And since the exercises don’t take a long time there’s less chance of getting bored, it’s much easier to focus on a 15-minute workout than a 45-minute session. One of the main areas many fitness plans fall down is through boredom and stagnation, with interval training there’s less chance of that happening.
All this adds up to people sticking at interval training for longer periods of time than any other type of continuous exercise. People have been shown to enjoy interval training more than traditional workouts. Over 50 percent of the respondents in a recent study stated they’d rather take part in short bursts of HIIT than continuous exercise like running or cycling.
Is Interval Training for You?
While interval training can allow many to increase their training intensity without over stressing the body, high-intensity interval training might not be a fit for everyone. If you haven’t exercised on a regular basis for a long time, have a chronic heart condition or any sporting injuries, it’s advisable to consult a physician before embarking on any new interval training routine.
Interval training can be challenging, but only as challenging as you make it. With high-intensity interval training routines you’re working at 100 percent capacity for a short burst and workouts shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes. But classic interval training is designed to work at 90 percent of your maximum work rate to allow for more intervals and will normally last a little longer as you’re not working to as high an intensity for the duration.
As your fitness levels improve you can increase the length of the high-intensity activity, the speed or the distance covered if running or cycling, or make the interval period a little more energetic. For example if swimming, use the down time between full pace lengths to jog gently on the spot or if running jog slowly in the intervals rather than resting.
If this all sounds too good to be true, why not give interval training a try for yourself. Interval training is a very effective way of exercising which produces many of the same benefits of other cardio activities but in much less time. It can help lower your body fat, improve your heart health and keep you burning those calories for longer post-workout periods. Interval training will also keep you alive longer to use all that extra time you’ve gained.